1760 - French expedition against Quebec

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1760 - French expedition against Quebec

The campaign lasted from March to May 1760



In September 1759, when the British army entered into Québec, the town was little better than a shapeless mass of ruins. Indeed, it had been reduced to this state by ceaseless bombardment of the British artillery during the siege.

Colonel James Murray immediately began to repair the fortifications of Québec, building 8 wooden redoubts, installing foot banks along the ramparts, opening embrasures, placing guns, blocking all the avenues with stockades, and transporting 11 months of provisions into the Upper Town.

At the end of October, when the British fleet sailed for Great Britain, Murray was left in Québec with a garrison of about 6,000 men consisting of:

The population of Québec was thoroughly demoralised, and given over to theft and pillage. Liquor was abundant and the British soldier was thirsty. Colonel James Murray needed all his firmness to restore any kind of order. His journal, November 14 1759:

“So much drunkenness that I recalled all licences, and ordered every man found drunk to receive twenty lashes every morning until he acknowledged where he got the drink, and to forfeit his allowance of rum for six weeks.”

In December 1759, severe weather began in earnest, and the effects of bad quarters, bad food, insufficient clothing and insufficient fuel speedily made themselves felt. The sentries were relieved every hour, yet it was impossible to keep them free of frost-bite. Nevertheless their suffering was great: 50 men were frost-bitten on a single day on this duty; three days later 65 more were similarly afflicted, and before Christmas there were over 150 cases.

Early in January 1760, there was a storm of sleet at Québec, followed by severe frost, which glazed the streets with ice. The Highlanders, in spite of their natural hardihood, suffered more from the cold than the other troops, the kilt being but a sorry protection against a Canadian winter. They were only relieved by a supply of long woollen hose knitted for them, perhaps as much for decency's as for charity's sake, by the nuns of the city. Still the men remained cheerful, for they were kept constantly at work cutting fuel and dragging it in sledges to their quarters, an errand on which they set forth always with muskets as well as with axes, from fear of Indians and bushrangers. There were rumour that the Chevalier de Lévis, now commander-in-chief of the French army, meant to attack and recover Québec.

In January, a French deserter said that Lévis had prepared scaling-ladders and was training his men to use them by assaults on mock ramparts of snow. There was more tangible evidence that the enemy was astir. Murray had established two fortified outposts, one at Sainte-Foy, and the other farther on, at Ancienne-Lorette. War-parties hovered round both and kept the occupants in alarm.

Meanwhile the French Governor Marquis de Vaudreuil was still at Montréal. During the winter, some of the French regulars had been kept in garrison at the outposts, and the rest quartered on the inhabitants; while the Canadiens were dismissed to their homes, subject to be mustered again at the call of the governor. The men of the Canonniers-Bombardiers de la Marine were stretched far too thin, only a single company was in Canada. There were simply not enough experienced men to effectively man the guns or lead gun crews.

In January, preparations for the expedition against Québec were resumed. A large number of scaling ladders were made. Canadiens were instructed to prepare provisions for the soldiers and for themselves. The garrison of Fort Lévis (at the head of the rapids of the Saint-Laurent River) having insufficient food supplies, 100 men were recalled downstream.

Contextual map of the campaign - Copyright: Kronoskaf

British relief forces

In October 1759, when Admiral Saunders had sailed for Great Britain after the capture of Québec, he had left Lord Colville in command of a small squadron in North America. This squadron consisted of:

These ships were joined at various times by the Devonshire (74) under Captain George Darby, Norwich (50) under Captain William M'Cleverty, Greyhound (24) under Captain Thomas Francis and Lizard (28) under Captain James Doake.

Colville was directed to enter the Saint-Laurent as soon as the season should allow.

Furthermore, early in the spring of 1760, Commodore Robert Swanton was despatched from Great Britain with reinforcements to Colville. These reinforcements consisted of:

In addition to these forces, the bomb vessel Racehorse (8), under Commander George Miller, and the sloop Porcupine (16), under Commander John Macartney, were already at Québec where they had wintered.

Finally, another squadron, under the command of Captain John Byron was sent from Great Britain to destroy the fortifications at Louisbourg.

Initial operations

At the end of January, Lévis sent M. de Saint-Martin with a detachment of 400 men to take position at Pointe-Lévis opposite Québec to prevent a British incursion on the south bank while food supplies were gathered in this area. This detachment of regulars, Canadiens, and Indians took up a strong position near the church at Pointe-Lévis and sent a message to the British officers that a large company of expert hairdressers were ready to wait upon them whenever they required their services. The allusion was of course to the scalp-lifting practices of the Indians and bushrangers.

Then, at the beginning of February, a large body of French grenadiers appeared at Ancienne-Lorette on the north bank and drove off a herd of cattle. A detachment of rangers, much inferior in number, set upon them, put them to flight, and recovered the plunder.

In mid-February, the Saint-Laurent froze in front of Québec. Murray sent over a detachment of light infantry under Major Dalling who attacked Saint-Martin's position at Pointe-Lévis. A sharp fight ensued on the snow, around the church, and in the neighbouring forest, where the British soldiers, taught to use snow-shoes by the rangers and routed the enemy. Saint-Martin retired behind the Chaudière River. He had lost 15 men and an officer in this affair.

A third British post was then established at the church and the priest's house adjacent. Meanwhile, Dumas sent reinforcements to support Saint-Martin, allowing him to maintain his position along the Chaudière.

A few days later, Saint-Martin ambushed a detachment of 50 British soldiers, capturing some of them and driving the rest back.

Saint-Martin then received additional reinforcement from the Government of Trois-Rivières and was instructed by Dumas to take position near Québec to cut the communication of the British with their post at Pointe-Lévis. Saint-Martin fortified his position with felled trees and then attacked the British at Pointe-Lévis. The firing being heard at Québec, the light infantry went over to the scene of action, and Murray himself followed on the ice, with the 78th Fraser’s Highlanders and other troops. Before he came up, the French drew off and retreated to their breastwork, where they were attacked and put to flight, the nimble Highlanders capturing a few, while the greater part retired once more behind the Chaudière. The British then retired to Québec, leaving a post at the church of Pointe-Lévis. They built a blockhouse above the church of Pointe-Lévis to replace their previous post.

As it became known that the French held a strong post at Le Calvaire, near Saint-Augustin, two days' march from Québec, Captain Donald MacDonald was sent with 500 men to attack it. He found the enemy behind a breastwork of logs protected by an abatis. The light infantry advanced and poured in a brisk fire; on which the French threw down their arms and fled. About 80 of them were captured; but their commander, Herbin, escaped. The British had 6 men wounded and nearly 100 frost-bitten.

On February 18, Bourlamaque visited the French positions near Québec and did not find any opportunity to act against the British posts. He then returned to Montréal. After his departure, the British burned about 30 houses at Pointe-Lévis and 5 or 6 at Sainte-Foy. Lévis then resolved to make an immediate attempt against Québec. However, due to lack of provisions, he was forced to postpone the expedition. The artillery available for this enterprise consisted of:

  • 1 x 24-pdr gun
  • 8 x 18-pdr guns
  • 9 x 12-pdr guns
  • 8 x 8-pdr or 6-pdr guns

Soon after, Captain Hazen and his rangers had a notable skirmish. They were posted in a house not far from the station at Lorette. A scout came in with news that a large party of French was coming to attack them; on which Hazen left 1 sergeant and 14 men in the house, and set out for Lorette with the rest to ask a reinforcement. On the way he met the French, who tried to surround him; and he told his men to fall back to the house. They remonstrated, saying that they "felt spry," and wanted to show the regulars that provincials could fight as well as red-coats. Thereupon they charged, gave the French a close volley of buckshot and bullets, and put them to flight; but scarcely had they reloaded their guns when they were fired upon from behind. Another body of assailants had got into their rear, in order to cut them off. They faced about, attacked them, and drove them back like the first. The two French parties then joined forces, left Hazen to pursue his march, and attacked the 14 rangers in the house, who met them with a brisk fire. Hazen and his men heard the noise; and, hastening back, fell upon the rear of the French, while those in the house sallied and attacked them in front. They were again routed; and the rangers chased them 3 km, killing 6 of them and capturing 7.

On February 23, Bougainville arrived at Montréal.

Late in February, a French deserter from Montréal brought Murray a letter from an officer of rangers, who was a prisoner at that place, warning him that 11,000 men were on the point of marching to attack him. Three other deserters soon after confirmed the news.

At the end of February, Canadiens were ordered to bring to the munitionnaire the month of supply which they had prepared for the French army.

The British garrison was victualled entirely with salt provisions, it was impossible to procure fresh meat for the men. Consequently, scurvy grew and increased until there was hardly a soldier in the ranks, even among those reckoned fit for duty, who was wholly free from the disease. With such a plague in his midst Murray might well feel apprehensive for the safety of Québec against the enemy without the walls.

On March 3, Bougainville arrived at Jacques-Cartier to take disposition for the planned expedition against Québec.

Mid March, Murray sent a detachment towards the Cap-Rouge River.

A few days later, a British detachment (about 550 men) burned a sawmill and a mill at Saint-Augustin. Then some days later, they surprised a French party, capturing 60 men before retiring to Québec.

French spies reported that the British planned to capture the posts at Pointe-aux-Trembles (present-day Neuville) and Jacques-Cartier. Reinforcements were sent from the Government of Trois-Rivières along with 225 men form Languedoc Infanterie. However, the information obtained from the spies about the British plan proved to be wrong. The troops sent from the Governement of Trois-Rivières returned home while the detachment of Languedoc Infanterie cantoned at Pointe-aux-Trembles.

French preparations

Both Vaudreuil and Lévis were full of the hope of retaking Québec. Vaudreuil had constant information of the state of the British garrison. He knew that the scurvy was his active and powerful ally, and that the hospitals and houses of Québec were crowded with the sick.

In early Spring. the Canadien militia received orders to muster for the march. There were doubts and discontent; but, says a contemporary, "sensible people dared not speak, for if they did they were set down as English." Some there were who in secret called the scheme "Lévis' folly;" yet it was perfectly rational, well conceived, and conducted with vigour and skill.

In March, Lévis reorganised his little army. He assigned part of the few remaining officers to command the 3 militia companies attached to each regular battalion (see table below for more information). This measure left too few officers to command each company of regular. Therefore, Lévis amalgamated each pair of companies forming a platoon into a single company, a battalion thus consisting of only 6 divisions instead of 12 as before. The order of battle would now be 6 ranks deep.

The French army in Canada – March 1760
Unit Detached
to Saint-Jean
for duty
II./La Reine (1 bn) 51 36 358 237 from Chambly, Saint-Charles, Saint-Denis, Saint-Antoine and Saint-Ours
II./La Sarre (1 bn) 51 34 345 261 from Île-Jésus and Terrebonne
II./Royal Roussillon (1 bn) 51 12 316 298 from Boucherville, Longueuil and La Prairie
II./Languedoc (1 bn) 51 23 361 462 men from the government of Trois-Rivières
II./Guyenne (1 bn) 51 15 325 277 from Sorel, Contrecoeur, Verchères and Varennes
II./Berry (1 bn) 52 6 362 255 from Îles-Bouchard, Mascouche, Lachenaie, L'Assomption, Repentigny, Saint-Sulpice, Lavaltrie, Lanoraie, D'Autray, Berthier, Île-Dupas and Île-aux-Castors
III./Berry (1 bn) 52 8 356 254 from the same localities as the second battalion
II./Béarn (1 bn) 52 18 384 184 from Longue-Pointe, Pointe-aux-Trembles near Montréal (not to be confused with the town of the same name near Québec), Rivière-des-Prairies and Sault-des-Récollets
Compagnies Franches de la Marine brigade (2 bns) - - 800 358 from localities upstream from Montréal
Milice du district de Montréaland
Milice du district de Trois-Rivières
- - - 500

At the end of March, Vaudreuil was informed that more than half the British were on the sick-list; and it was presently rumoured that Murray had only 2,000 men able to bear arms. With every allowance for exaggeration in these reports, it was plain that the French could attack their invaders in overwhelming force. Indeed, 1,000 men of Murray's army had died and more than 2,000 men were unfit for service.

The French had difficulties to find means of transportation. The depth of the snow and the want of draught animals made it necessary to wait till the river should become navigable; but preparation was begun at once. Lévis, the ablest officer left to the French since the fall of Montcalm, was the soul of the enterprise. Provisions were gathered from far and near; cannon, mortars, and munitions of war were brought from the frontier posts, and butcher-knives were fitted to the muzzles of guns to serve the Canadiens in place of bayonets. All the workmen about Montréal were busied in making tools and gun-carriages. Stores were impressed from the merchants; and certain articles, which could not otherwise be had, were smuggled, with extraordinary address, out of Québec itself.

In Québec, all remained quiet till after the middle of April, when the British garrison was startled by repeated assurances that at the first breaking-up of the ice all Canada would be upon them.

On the French side, 2 frigates (Atalante (32) and Pomone (30)), 2 sloops-of-war and a number of smaller craft still remained in the Saint-Laurent River, under command of Vauquelin, the brave officer who had distinguished himself at the siege of Louisbourg. The stores and cannon were placed on board these vessels, the army embarked in a fleet of bateaux.

Opening of the campaign

From April 10 to 15, the Saint-Laurent thawing near Montréal, preparations were undertaken for the departure of the expedition against Québec.

On April 16 and 17, Lévis sent orders of march to each unit.

On April 17, Lévis sent M. de la Pause ahead to reconnoitre proper landing places and to make every preparation at Jacques-Cartier and its surroundings so that his troops would be ready to march forward immediately upon landing. The same day, Murray, learning that the preparations of the French were complete, occupied the mouth of the Cap Rouge River to prevent a landing at that point.

On April 20, French transport vessels were loaded and the 2 frigates prepared to escort these transports. The same day, Bourlamaque left Montréal.

On April 21, Lévis left Montréal.

From April 21 to 25, transport vessels gradually sailed from Montréal for Québec.

The French army for the expedition against Québec – April 1760
Brigade Unit Officers Regular
Militia Non
La Reine II./La Reine (1 bn) 27 370 223 38 658
II./Languedoc (1 bn) 14 280 285 11 594
La Sarre II./La Sarre (1 bn) 24 339 230 22 615
II./Béarn (1 bn) 24 371 221 33 646
Royal Roussillon II./Royal Roussillon (1 bn) 24 305 279 13 621
II./Guyenne (1 bn) 22 320 281 29 632
Berry Berry (2 bns) 51 727 519 61 1358
La Marine Compagnies Franches de la Marine brigade (2 bns) 80 898 246 79 1303
Irregulars Corps de Cavalerie du Canada 5 0 200 3 208
Indian Allies 8 0 270 0 278
Milice du district de Montréal - - 287 59 347
    279 3610 3021 352 7260

On April 22, Murray ordered the French inhabitants of Québec to leave the town within three days. The effective strength of the garrison was reduced to less than half, and of those that remained fit for duty, hardly a man was entirely free from scurvy. The rank and file had no fresh provisions; and, in spite of every precaution, this malignant disease, aided by fever and dysentery, made havoc among them. In case he could not hold Québec, Murray was considering to retire to Isle-d'Orléans with what would be left of the garrison to wait for reinforcements.

On April 23, Lévis' Army reached Sainte-Anne, Grondines and Deschambault.

As Lévis' army advanced, it was increased the garrisons of Jacques-Cartier, Deschambault, and Pointe-aux-Trembles, as well as by the Canadiens on both sides of the Saint-Laurent below Trois-Rivières; for Vaudreuil had ordered the militia captains to join his standard, with all their followers, armed and equipped, on pain of death. These accessions appear to have raised Lévis' force to about 8,500 men. Lévis also planned to recruit people around Québec once the place besieged. He intended to use them as scouts since they probably had no weapons.

The ice still clung to the river banks, the weather was bad, and the navigation difficult.

Arrival of the French Army

By April 24, of about 7,000 British troops left at Québec in the autumn, scarcely more than 3,000 were fit for duty. About 700 had found temporary burial in the snowdrifts, as the frozen ground was impenetrable as a rock. By the same date, all transports carrying French troops had reached Pointe-aux-Trembles (present-day Neuville) where the French army landed since the Saint-Laurent was still frozen solid at the height of Québec.

On April 25, the French army sojourned at Pointe-aux-Trembles to take some provisions and ammunition and to prepare to move by land. The Sieur de la Pause was sent forward to determine the limit reachable with the vessels and to reconnoitre the British positions which were known to occupy the mouth of the Cap-Rouge River. It did not appear feasible for the French army to follow the main road from Montréal to Québec. It was then resolved to move inland, pass the Cap-Rouge river 8 km upstream from its mouth, to march to Ancienne-Lorette, to move through the marsh of La Suète River and finally to seize the Heights of Sainte-Foy in order to reach the main road.

By April 26, the entire French flotilla had arrived at Pointe-aux-Trembles. The same day, Lévis' army moved downstream with boats to Saint-Augustin. Boats were drawn over ice floes to berth. The army then left with provisions and only 3 guns. Meanwhile, Bourlamaque was sent ahead with the Indians, the grenadiers and a detachment of artillery to reconnoitre the crossing place on the Cap-Rouge River and to build bridges. At 2:00 p.m., Bourlamaque informed Lévis that everything was ready for crossing. Lévis immediately marched with his army and instructed Bourlamaque to pass the river and to occupy the houses on the opposite bank. The British abandoned their post at Ancienne-Lorette and fell back to their other post at Sainte-Foy. Lévis was informed of their retreat. A French brigade managed to pass the Cap-Rouge River before nightfall, replacing Bourlamaque. The latter moved through the marsh of La Suète with the vanguard and took post 1 km from the Heights of Sainte-Foy. As the French brigades passed the Cap-Rouge River, Lévis sent them forward to support Bourlamaque. Lévis then joined the vanguard for the night, asking M. de la Pause to advise him as soon as the entire army would have passed the marsh.

The night of April 26 to 27 was terrible with a gale from the south-east, a driving rain, and violent thunder, unusual at that season. The French army suffered heavily from these poor conditions and the passage of the marsh took most of the night. The road, a bad and broken one, led through the marsh called La Suète. Causeways and bridges broke down under the weight of the marching columns and plunged the men into water, mud, and half-thawed ice. "It was a frightful night," says Lévis; "so dark that but for the flashes of lightning we should have been forced to stop." As they arrived on the heights, they were distributed into the various houses and buildings for shelter and to allow them to prepare their arms in order to be ready to march at daybreak. Till late in the night, Murray and the garrison of Québec were unaware of the immediate danger.

Some time after midnight on Sunday April 27, the watch on board the sloop Racehorse (8) which had wintered in the dock at the lower town, heard a feeble cry of distress from the midst of the darkness that covered the Saint-Laurent. Captain Macartney was at once informed of it; and, through an impulse of humanity, he ordered a boat to put out amid the drifting ice that was sweeping up the river with the tide. Guided by the faint cries, the sailors found a man lying on a large cake of ice, drenched, and half dead with cold; and, taking him with difficulty into their boat, they carried him to the ship. It was long before he was able to speak intelligibly; but at last, being revived by cordials and other remedies, he found strength to tell his benefactors that he was a sergeant of artillery in the army that had come to retake Québec; that in trying to land a little above Cap-Rouge, his boat had been overset, his companions drowned, and he himself saved by climbing upon the cake of ice where they had discovered him; that he had been borne by the ebb tide down to the Isle-d'Orléans, and then brought up to Québec by the flow; and, finally, that Lévis was marching on the town. He was placed in a hammock and carried up Rue de la Montagne to the quarters of the Murray. At 3:00 a.m., Murray was roused from sleep to hear his story. The troops were ordered under arms.

On April 27, soon after daybreak Murray had marched out of Québec with 10 pieces of cannon and more than half the garrison. His principal object was to withdraw the advanced posts at Sainte-Foy, Cap-Rouge, Sillery, and Anse-au-Foulon. The storm had turned to a cold, drizzling rain, and the men, as they dragged their cannon through snow and mud, were soon drenched to the skin. By this time, the French vanguard had reached the edge of the woods bordering the farther side of the marsh. The storm had abated; and they saw before them, a few hundred meters distant, through the misty air, a ridge of rising ground on which stood the parish church of Sainte-Foy, with a row of Canadian houses stretching far to right and left. This ridge was the declivity of the plateau of Québec; the same which as it approaches the town, some 8 to 10 km towards the left, takes the names of Côte d'Abraham and Côte Sainte-Geneviève. The church and the houses were occupied by British troops, who, as the French debouched from the woods, opened on them with cannon, and compelled them to fall back. Lévis had resolved to attack but had to wait for his artillery till 10:00 a.m. He needed it to attack the church and the fortified houses of the British post. Lévis and Bourlamaque reconnoitred the British position. Though the ridge at this point is not steep, the position was a strong one. Lévis pushed some troops forward to the edge of the woods and sent M. de la Pause to march the army across the Suète River and to form in 4 columns. When Lévis saw that his army would have to approach the British positions through marshy woods and that the road was impracticable for his artillery, he decided to wait till nightfall and then to turn the British left flank. Meanwhile, when Murray's detachment finally reached Sainte-Foy, they opened a brisk fire from the heights upon the woods which now covered the whole army of Lévis; and being rejoined by the various outposts, returned to Québec in the afternoon, after blowing up the church, which contained a store of munitions that they had no means of bringing off. By 1:00 p.m., the British posts had been evacuated. When British troops entered Québec, a gill of rum was served out to each man; several houses in the suburb of Saint-Roch were torn down to supply them with firewood for drying their clothes; and they were left to take what rest they could against the morrow. When Lévis saw the church of Sainte-Foy burning, he ordered his guards, along with all his grenadier coys and his cavalry to follow up the retiring British troops. At nightfall, this vanguard caught up with the British near a fortified house where the latter took refuge. The French had an officer and a few volunteers wounded. After Murray's retreat, the French took possession of the abandoned heights; and while some filled the houses, barns, and sheds of Sainte-Foy and its neighbourhood, others, chiefly Canadiens, crossed the plateau to seek shelter in the village of Sillery. Lévis resolved to wait till night, and then flank the enemy by a march to the right along the border of the wood.

Three courses were open to Murray. He could defend Québec, fortify himself outside the walls on the Buttes-à-Neveu, or fight Lévis at all risks. The walls of Québec could not withstand a cannonade, and he had long intended to entrench his army on the Buttes, as a better position of defence; but the ground, frozen like a rock, had thus far made the plan impracticable. Even now, though he surface was thawed, the soil beneath was still frost-bound, making the task of fortification extremely difficult, if indeed the French would give him time for it. The only alternative open to him was to sally out and fight Lévis, at odds of one against two, and beat him if he could. Murray was young, daring and fired by the example of Brigadier-General James Wolfe. His army was, as he said, in the habit of beating the enemy; and he had a fine train of artillery. He therefore resolved to go out and fight.

Battle of Sainte-Foy

On April 28 at 6:30 a.m., Murray marched with all the force he could muster: 3,000 men. Some of these had left the hospitals of their own accord in their eagerness to take part in the fray. His badly outnumbered army was defeated at the Battle of Sainte-Foy but managed to retreat orderly to Québec. After the battle, Murray sent the sloop Racehorse (8) to Halifax with news of his defeat, to hasten the arrival of Colville's squadron. Murray had left some 350 men to guard Québec when the rest marched out; and adding them to those who had returned unscathed from the fight, he now had about 2,400 rank and file fit for duty. The fate of Québec now trembled in the balance. At first there was some drunkenness and some plundering of private houses; but Murray stopped the one by staving the rum-barrels of the sutlers, and the other by hanging the chief offender. Once the British had taken refuge within the walls of Québec, the French army took possession of the Buttes-à-Neveu located only 600 m. from the place and spend the night on the reverse side of this ridge, sending the wounded of both army to the Hôpital Général.

Siege of Québec

The walls facing the Plains of Abraham, the only accessible part of the fortifications for Lévis' army, were defended by 6 bastions. They were covered by a shallow ditch and by 6 or 7 wooden redoubts erected by the British. The terrain in front of these works is very rocky and not suitable to traditional siege works. Lévis resolved to crown the Buttes-à-Neveu with a parallel running in front of the Saint-Louis bastion, the Glacière bastion and up to the Cap Diamant bastion. He hoped that despite the absence of siege artillery, he would be able to breach these bad walls with his field pieces. His small flotilla anchored near Samos.

In the morning of April 29, the French army encamped 1 km behind the ridge. Provisions and tools were then distributed. The British artillery kept a lively fire on the French workmen, The Sieurs Debonne and Méloize, officers of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, and 8 soldiers were killed by its fire. Chief engineer de Pontleroy was assigned to the direction of the siege, assisted by M. de Montbeillard for the command of the artillery. M. Delaas was promoted trench major assisted by Sieur de Bastonis, lieutenant at Berry Infanterie. At 4:00 p.m., La Reine Infanterie, Royal Roussillon Infanterie, one battalion of Berry Infanterie, one battalion of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, Béarn Infanterie and all grenadier coys marched to the trenches. Meanwhile, 600 men from the other units were assigned at the construction of the siege works. At nightfall, work began on the parallel. From the 5 battalions assigned to the trenches, 3 were formed in line behind the parallel, the 2 other were kept in reserve about 110 m. behind the first line. The grenadiers, subdivided into platoons, were deployed in front of the parallel.

On April 30 at daybreak, the British made a sortie. The officer leading the detachment along with all men who had managed to enter into the trenches were taken prisoners. In this action, the British lost 10 men killed and the French 4 men killed. At noon, the 5 fresh battalions relieved those posted in the trenches since the previous afternoon who, in turn, supplied the workmen for the current day. Work on three batteries began. The French had 5 or 6 men killed or wounded. At nightfall, a few Indians and some dismounted men of the Corps de Cavalerie occupied a post on the left. This post was later manned by the Corps de Cavalerie and a company of militia volunteers. British shells and bombs were a constant hindrance during the work on the parallel. During the night 1 British officer and 30 men made a sortie, the officer was taken prisoner.

By May 1, order, subordination, hope, and almost confidence were completely restored in Murray's army. Not a man was idle. The troops left their barracks and lay in tents close to their respective alarm posts. On the open space by Saint-Louis Gate a crowd of convalescents were busy in filling sand-bags to strengthen the defences, while the sick and wounded in the hospitals made wadding for the cannon. The ramparts were faced with fascines, of which a large stock had been provided in the autumn; chevaux-de-frise were planted in exposed places; an outwork was built to protect Saint-Louis Gate; embrasures were cut along the whole length of the walls; and the French cannon captured when the town was taken were planted against their late owners. British officers shared the hard work of the private men. The effect was admirable. The spirit of the men rose to the crisis. Murray, no less than his officers, had all their confidence; for if he had fallen into a fatal error, he atoned for it now by unconquerable resolution and exhaustless fertility of resource. The same day, the French trenches being now secured, the 2 reserve battalions were sent back to the camp. The Sieur de Boischastel, aide-major of La Sarre Infanterie, was mortally wounded by a shrapnel. The construction of 3 batteries was begun. The first of these batteries, consisting of 6 pieces, would fire diagonally on the face of the Glacière bastion, while a second of 4 pieces would fire frontally on the same part and a third of 3 pieces would fire on the flank of the Saint-Louis bastion opposite the Glacière bastion. A fourth battery of 2 mortars was also erected. Work on the parallel and the batteries proved to be difficult due to the rocky ground and to the constant harassment of the British artillery. The French camp had to be moved farther behind the ridge to escape British fire. A British deserter informed Lévis that the British intended to make a sortie with about 700 men the following night. However, this sortie never materialized.

On May 2, Lévis realised that despite all efforts, the parallel was of bad quality and did not cover his troops properly. Furthermore, every day the British fire grew hotter. The British sent out the few inhabitants remaining in the place.

On May 3, Lévis resolved to send Vauquelin aboard the Atalante (32), along with an armed schooner below Québec to intercept any British transport vessels arriving at Québec. However, only the schooner managed to pass under the guns of the place. The same day, the British burned all houses adjacent to the Palais and to the Canoterie.

On May 5, the British artillery fire diminished and siege work progressed faster. The French completed a battery of cannon and one of mortars.

On May 8, the French had an advanced battery ready. Artillery pieces were transferred from the trenches to this battery. The British now had some 60 pieces aimed on the French parallel who opened a heavy fire.

The French best hope now lay in the succours they daily expected from the river below. In the autumn of 1759, Lévis, with a view to his intended enterprise, had sent a request to Versailles that a ship laden with munitions and heavy siege-guns should be sent from France in time to meet him at Québec in April; while he looked also for another ship, which had wintered at Gaspé, and which therefore might reach him as soon as navigation opened. The arrival of these vessels would have made the position of the British doubly critical; and, on the other hand, should a British squadron appear first, Lévis would be forced to raise the siege. Thus each side watched the river with an anxiety that grew constantly more intense; and the British presently descried signals along the shore which seemed to say that French ships were moving up the Saint-Laurent. Meantime, while doing their best to compass each other's destruction, neither side forgot the courtesies of war. Lévis heard that Murray liked spruce-beer for his table, and sent him a flag of truce with a quantity of spruce-boughs and a message of compliment; Murray responded with a Cheshire cheese, and Lévis rejoined with a present of partridges.

On May 9 at 9:00 a.m., a frigate appeared at Pointe-Lévis and sent a boat to Québec. The French initially thought that she was the vessel who had left Québec on their arrival. Murray, as he sat pondering over the fire at his quarters in Saint-Louis Street, was interrupted by an officer who came to tell him that there was a frigate in the basin beating up towards the town. Murray started from his reverie, and directed that British colours should be raised immediately on Cap Diamant. The halyards being out of order, a sailor climbed the staff and drew up the flag to its place. The news had spread; men and officers, divided between hope and fear, crowded to the rampart by the Château Saint-Louis and every eye was strained on the approaching ship, eager to see whether she would show the red flag of Great Britain or the white one of France. Slowly her colours rose to the mast-head and unfurled to the wind the red cross of St. George. It was the British frigate Lowestoffe (28). She anchored before the Lower Town, and saluted the garrison with 21 guns. "The gladness of the troops," says Knox, "is not to be expressed. Both officers and soldiers mounted the parapet in the face of the enemy and huzzaed with their hats in the air for almost an hour. The garrison, the enemy's camp, the bay, and circumjacent country resounded with our shouts and the thunder of our artillery; for the gunners were so elated that they did nothing but load and fire for a considerable time. In short, the general satisfaction is not to be conceived, except by a person who had suffered the extremities of a siege, and been destined, with his brave friends and countrymen, to the scalping-knives of a faithless conqueror and his barbarious allies." The Lowestoffe (28) brought news that a British squadron under Lord Colville and Commodore Swanton was at the mouth of the Saint-Laurent and would reach Québec in a few days. Towards the end of the day, the French received intelligence that the newly arrived frigate was not the vessel who had left Québec on their arrival. The night was particularly cold.

On May 10, the French batteries were not yet ready to open against the walls of Québec. Lévis received a request from Murray asking for the return of the wounded kept at the Hôpital Général. Lévis refused the request and informed Murray that he had deferred the final decision to Governor Vaudreuil. The night was very rainy.

On May 11 at noon. the French batteries finally opened against the walls of Québec that was not built to bear the brunt of heavy shot. Both artilleries (the British had now 132 guns mounted on the walls of Québec) exchanged lively fire till nightfall. The night was very quiet, both sides taking advantage of it to repair their batteries. A French schooner and two floating batteries passed below Québec to plant a mortar at Beauport. The British initially thought that the Lower Town was under attack.

In the morning of May 12, the artillery duel was resumed. The French had only bad 18-pdr and 12-pdr iron pieces with a single 24-pdr who burst as several other ones in the following days. Seeing his ammunition depleting rapidly and the feeble results obtained, Lévis ordered to fire only 20 rounds per piece daily, putting all his hope on the arrival of reinforcements from France. The British maintained a lively artillery fire all day and all night, the French taking advantage of the night to repair their batteries. Meanwhile, the British had armed the Lowestoffe (28) along with the sloop Porcupine (16) who wintered at Québec.

On May 13, the British artillery was very active while the battered French artillery fired sporadically. Once more, the French used the night to repair their batteries. The besiegers had now no real chance of success unless they could carry the place by storm, to which end they had provided abundant scaling-ladders as well as petards to burst in the gates. They made, however, no attempt to use them.

On May 14 and 15, the artillery duel diminished in intensity.

Arrival of the British relief expedition

On the evening of May 15, the British ship of the line Vanguard (70) and the frigate Diana (32) of Swanton's squadron sailed into the harbour.

During the night of May 15 to 16, Lévis was informed of the appearance of these 2 British vessels between Isle-d'Orléans and Pointe-Lévis. He immediately sent orders to the French vessels transporting the supplies of his army to retire and to his 2 frigates to be on alert, ready to retire. Finally, he ordered the removal of the artillery from the trenches and the withdrawal of the army. Due to bad weather, his orders to the vessels were delayed.

On May 16 at daybreak, in response to the expressed wishes of General Murray, Commodore Swanton gave orders to the Diana (32) and the Lowestoffe (28), soon followed by the Vanguard (70), to pass the town and to attack the French vessels in the river above. At 5:00 a.m., the 6 French vessels (2 frigates, 2 smaller armed ships, and 2 schooners) under command of the gallant Captain Vauquelin. were setting sail when the British vessels appeared. The French vessels cut their cables. The frigate Pomone (30) made a bad manoeuvre and ran aground. The 2 British frigates ignored her and pursued the Atalante (32) who joined the French transport vessels at Cap-Rouge. Seeing that the British frigates were catching up with the French transport vessels, the commander of the Atalante (32) ordered them to beach so that Lévis could salvage the provisions they transported. The Atalante (32) then sailed upstream but was forced to run aground at Pointe-aux-Trembles. Vauquelin did not belie his reputation and fought his ship for two hours with persistent bravery till his ammunition was spent, refused even then to strike his flag, and being made prisoner, was treated by his captors with distinguished honour. Meanwhile, the Vanguard (70) did not sail farther than Saint-Michel and returned to Anse-au-Foulon, enfilading the French trenches and forcing their abandonment. She then sailed back for Québec. After the engagement, the 2 British frigates remained at Pointe-aux-Trembles. The destruction of his vessels was a death-blow to the hopes of Lévis, for they contained his stores of food and ammunition. Lévis resolved to wait for the night before retiring. Meanwhile, he hastened to raise the siege, leaving behind him the whole of his material for the siege, and his sick and wounded. He also gave orders to throw the iron artillery down the cliff near Anse-au-Foulon and to distribute provisions to the troops. At 10:00 p.m., the army marched, the cast iron and campaign pieces had been sent forward. Deserters from Lévis' camp told Murray that the French were in full retreat; on which all the British batteries opened, firing at random through the darkness, and sending cannon-balls en ricochet, bowling by scores together, over the Plains of Abraham on the heels of the retiring French army.

On May 17, Murray marched out at dawn of day with 5 bns, the grenadiers and the light coys to fall upon their rear. He pushed over the marsh to Ancienne-Lorette but, though he captured many stragglers failed to overtake the main body. They had already crossed the Cap-Rouge River. The French army remained on the banks of this river while provisions and ammunition were unloaded from the beached vessels and transferred onto the flûte Marie and bateaux who sailed upstream the following night. Thus Québec was saved; and the advent of spring, together with a supply of fresh provisions, soon turned Murray's sickly battalions into an army fit for service in the field. The same day, Colonel Burton visited the Hôpital Général where French and British soldiers were looked after. In his journal, Murray mentions:

"We took their camp standing, great part of their stores, ammunition, 34 pieces of cannon — four brass 12-pounders, — six of our own field pieces, six mortars, four petards, a large provision of scaling-ladders, and intrenching tools beyond number."

On the morning of May 18, the French burnt the beached vessels before leaving. La Sarre Infanterie had been sent to Saint-Augustin to recover provisions from a schooner beached there. The French army spent the night at Pointe-aux-Trembles (present-day Neuville).

On May 18, Lord Colville with his squadron reached Québec. At 10:00 a.m., Lévis was informed that 8 or 10 British ships of the line were now arrived. He decided to retire behind the Jacques-Cartier River. A violent north-easterly wing was blowing since several days, causing the loss of several bateaux loaded with provisions and ammunition. The same day, the British Lowestoffe (28) struck on a sunken rock and foundered, but without loss of life.

On May 19, after receiving 3 days supplies, the French army marched. According to plan, it passed the Jacques-Cartier River and cantoned along its bank.

On May 20, La Sarre Infanterie was sent to Sainte-Anne to guard the provisions. The same day, the first British merchant ships started to arrive at Québec.

On May 21, Lévis reviewed his army, most Canadiens had by then deserted. The British who had received no additional infantry could not possibly detach more than 1,400 men, but this detachment could be supported by their fleet. Therefore, there was clear danger that British troops could be landed upstream of the French positions. This led Lévis to leave the Sieur Dumas at the head of a corps of some 1,800 men to occupy posts at Pointe-aux-Trembles, Fort Jacques-Cartier and Deschambault and to send back all his other battalions to their quarters. Dumas' Corps was deployed as follows:

  • Pointe-aux-Trembles: 400 men under M. de la Rochebeaucourt
  • Fort Jacques-Cartier: 300 men under M. de Repentigny
  • Deschambault: 1,100 men (including a few sailors and Indians) under the Sieur Dumas of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine

On May 22, the battalion of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine departed from the banks of the Jacques-Cartier River, leaving only 1 captain and 60 men to form part of Dumas' Corps. All battalions leaving in the following days made similar contributions to Dumas' Corps.

On May 23, Royal Roussillon Infanterie and Guyenne Infanterie departed from the camp on the banks of the Jacques-Cartier.

On May 24, La Sarre Infanterie left Sainte-Anne and La Reine Infanterie and Béarn Infanterie left Jacques-Cartier. The same day, Murray informed Lévis that, if the French did not send supplies for their sick at the Hôpital Général, their would all be considered as prisoners of war.

On May 25, the 2 bns of Berry Infanterie left the camp on the banks of the Jacques-Cartier. The same day, Lévis went to Deschambault.

On May 26, Lévis remained at Deschambault, issuing instructions to all his commanders.

On May 27, Lévis went to Trois-Rivières where he discussed of the measures to take with the governor.

On May 28, Lévis left Trois-Rivières for Montréal.

The retreat of Lévis left Canada little hope but in a speedy peace. This hope was strong, for a belief widely prevailed that, even if the colony should be subdued, it would be restored to France by treaty. Its available force did not exceed some 9,000 men, as most of the Canadiens below the district of Trois-Rivières had sworn allegiance to King George; and though many of them had disregarded the oath to join the standard of Lévis, they could venture to do so no longer. The French had lost the best of their artillery, their gunpowder was falling short, their provisions would barely carry them to harvest time, and no more was to be hoped for, since a convoy of ships which had sailed from France at the end of winter, laden with supplies of all kinds, had been captured by the British. The blockade of the Saint-Laurent was complete. The Western Indians would not fight, and even those of the mission villages were wavering and insolent. Furthermore, 3 British armies were preparing to launch a three pronged attack against Montréal.


This article is essentially an abridged and adapted version of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous: A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 501-505
  • Clowes, Wm. Laird: The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 224, 226, 227
  • Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 389-395
  • Lévis, Chevalier de: Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, pp. 237-267, 272-287
  • Malartic, Comte de Maurès de: Journal des Campagnes au Canada de 1755 à 1760, Dijon: Damidot, 1890, pp. 304-331
  • Parkman, Francis: Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 501-515